After assigning today’s senior paragraph, I received a Reverse Uno card (RS) and I played along agreeing to write the paragraph myself. Once I started the paragraph, I received a +4 Uno card meaning my paragraph had to be at least eleven sentences long. This is in no way a truly academic paragraph; this is at best an outline of my thoughts on why there are two Beowulfs written in the first fifteen minutes of class while my seniors were writing their own responses (yes, I put it on the projector so they could read what I was writing).
When I first heard the story of Beowulf from Mr. Gordon, it was in AP English in the fall of 1990 and I firmly believed that one Beowulf ruled them all (the Geats for fifty years after Hygelic and Heardred died). Over the last ten years, I’ve been teaching Beowulf to class after class of seniors and have come to the conclusion that there are two Beowulfs. Simply using the timeline given through the epic, it is impossible for one Beowulf to fight and kill Grendel, his mom, and the dragon. First, Beowulf would have been in his mid-twenties at the earliest when he heads to Denmark (he would also have left a wife and at least one child behind). Hygelic would have stayed king for ten to fifteen years after Beowulf returned from Denmark. Upon his death in battle, Heardred would have been king for at least five years before his death putting Beowulf’s age to about forty when he finally ascends to the throne of Geatland. Then, according to the text, Beowulf ruled for fifty years before the dragon gets growly and deadly. That puts Beowulf at ninety at the youngest when he heads out to fight the dragon. Granted, people in the early hundreds were smart enough to wash regularly, clean and care for wounds, which means if they survived battle and disease they could live to sixty or seventy, but they wouldn’t be able to fight at that point. Additionally, the text seems to be of two minds about how Beowulf was viewed by his own people—the badass monster hunter whose king worried about his safety while he was in Denmark was seen as weak by the Geats? I don’t think so. The killer of Dayraven and the killer of Grendel, the monster slayer, were obviously different people. Besides the difference in pivotal, fame-making moments, the two Beowulfs have very different approaches to actual monster killing—to wit, Beowulf Senior trusts his men to follow him and they trust him enough that without knowing Beowulf’s full plan they follow him; Beowulf Junior doesn’t trust his men at all, so he goes to fight the dragon alone. When Beowulf Senior has a sword fail while battling Grendel’s mother, he tosses it; when Beowulf Junior has a sword fail to slice the dragon, he keeps trying until he breaks the sword. Therefore, there are two Beowulfs.
It’ll do for today.